Welch-Knowledge workers, dreamers, and the anti-Solomon

I am continuing in Adam Welch’s 1924 book, The Code of Deuteronomy. Welch had a chapter on the laws in the code about various officials in Israelite society.

First, there are the Levites. This was a whole tribe given over to certain official duties. Deuteronomy often refers to “the Levite within your gates”, which means that the Levites did not just live at shrines but also lived in the villages. Their duties were not only religious. In the villages they were like judges and handed down rulings on various matters.

Welch saw them as divided into Levites who formed colonies around the clan shrines making their living from the sacrifices, and those who stayed in the villages. Some laws include the Levites among orphans, widows, and displaced persons as requiring the community’s material support (14:29, 16:11 and 14, 26:12).  These must be the village Levites. The law also requires the sanctuary Levites to accept the village Levites and not be clannish (18:6-8).

According to Welch, this was not because the centralization of worship at Jerusalem had thrown the country clergy out of work. There had always been landless, village Levites with no direct access to sacrifices, just as there had always been orphans and widows.

The Levites were knowledge workers. They knew the correct rituals and liturgies for worshipping the LORD as opposed to Baal. They knew how to handle diseases like leprosy. They knew how to make rulings in disputes. They probably even knew about things like lost livestock (1 Samuel 9:6).

This may have been partly because they knew how to use the sacred lots, the Urim and the Thumin (Deuteronomy 33:8).

But the laws in Deuteronomy do not tell us how they did their work. Unlike Leviticus, these laws are for laymen. They just tell the people to consult the Levites in certain situations.

Second, there were prophets. Welch saw prophets as Israel’s answer to the occult practices of other nations. In 18:9-15 the code blasts sorcery, which it associates with child sacrifice. Then, beginning with v. 16, it puts forth prophets in the tradition of Moses as the alternative for Israel. Prophets undermine the need for the occult, because God puts his own words in their mouth. Careless and false prophets are no better than sorcerers.

Welch picked up on the mention of people who are “dreamers of dreams” as parallel to prophets in 13:3 and 13:5. He thought this meant that most of the law in 13:1-5 came from early times. Dreams, like those of Jacob and Joseph, were a category of revelation for the E strand of the Pentateuch, but fell out of favor as a form of revelation later.

(When I was studying the Psalms of Asaph, I ran across the intriguing notion that the letters s-ph in the ending of names like Joseph and Asaph once designated people who were “dreamers of dreams”.)

The king is the other official Welch talked about. The law in 17:14-20 says three main things. First, Israel may have a king. This puts in the mouth of Moses a little more positive outlook on monarchy than the grudging gloom of Samuel in 1 Samuel 8:10ff.

Second, the king has to be chosen by and remain loyal to the LORD. This means he cannot be a foreigner (v. 15) and he needs to saturate himself with the law. Welch admits that the reference to a book in v. 18 is obscure. But the general meaning of 18-20 must be that even more than the ordinary Israelite (Deuteronomy 6:5ff.), the king must have the Torah in his heart.

Third, the king better not be like Solomon. This is the clear meaning of the command against accumulating horses, wives, and precious metals in vs. 16-17. Also the command not to get horses from Egypt seems to refer to Solomon.

Thus, Welch put the setting for this law in the early days of the monarchy in the Northern Kingdom. The permission to have a monarchy at all would have spoken to the question about the legitimacy of Jeroboam and his successors. That the king had to be chosen by God becomes the basis for Hosea’s divine complaint that “they have set up kings, but not by me” (Hosea 8:4). But the anti-Solomon part is the most telling. The Northern Kingdom was set up precisely to avoid having a king like Solomon.

You can see that Welch placed most of the laws of Deuteronomy way earlier than the reform of Josiah or even Hezekiah. Not many outside of the Moses-wrote-it school, would think this today. It surprises me how cogent some of Welch’s arguments still seem.

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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